Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Treecats are a fictional species of intelligent lifeforms who take a prominent role in a series of novels and stories about the 'Honorverse'. David Weber was the original author, but others have begun to contribute related stories. All are published by Baen Books.
Treecats are native to the planet Sphinx. They are intelligent, self aware, communicative, and social. They are the twelfth -- and physically smallest -- intelligent species known to humans. Their intelligence is on the order of Terran dolphins and probably higher. They evolved as arboreals, and continue to be so when in their native forests.
Treecats have two eyes which face forward giving excellent binocular vision, even in low light levels, and which are nearly always 'grass green'. They see rather deeper in the infrared than do humans.
They are muscular (Sphinx is a higher than Terran gravity world), extremely agile, telepathic, empathic, omnivorous, hexapedal (meaning six-footed, typical of Sphinx's land animals) creatures with long muscular flat tails. The tails are both prehensile when flat and usually carried folded into a furry 'tube' which appears much as a Terran cat tail would. When sitting, folded tails are often wrapped around the feet in the manner of Terran cats. When sleeping, the tail is often wrapped around the body, also in the manner of Terran cats. Both the front two pairs of limbs can be used as hands; the front pair of hands have four fingers, one opposable (think 'thumb'). The fur is thick, soft, three layered, and thins out in hot weather, as is required by anything which can survive a Sphinx winter without modern technology. Treecats shed when it's warm, and are in this sense 'high maintenance' in some situations when living with humans.
They are formidably armed with retractile claws (primary use is for climbing trees) and long curved teeth. The equivalent of a war cry, or attack warning/threat/announcement, resembles a loud 'ripping canvas' noise and is used only when about to fight in lethal earnest. They also make a noise similar to a purr when contented, and make several sounds (including bleeks, chirps, chitters, and croons) which variously convey (among many other things) amusement, contentment, laughter, and derision—if not sarcasm, to other treecats and to humans. They also flick their ears, 'flirt' their tails (for unknown reasons, this is the term in wide use), and yawn -- all of which are also communication signals and generally understandable by humans.
Except on Sphinx, treecats are not well known, and they are nowhere well understood. Including in the rest of The Star Kingdom, its Royal Navy, and even to a considerable extent on Sphinx as well. This causes difficulty, as humans unfamiliar with treecats sometimes nonetheless believe they have sufficient grounds for conclusion (eg, that they are merely very intelligent, cute, cuddly, pets). As may be expected, such conclusions are sometimes unfortunate and have had (and continue to have) unfortunate consequences.
Total body size is around a meter at most, including tail (about half that). Typical adult males weigh about 10 kg (or 22 pounds); adult females are somewhat smaller. Males are usually cream and gray with faint stripes whose number more or less correlate with age, females are typically dappled brown and white. Despite the name treecat, some consider that they more closely resemble a member of the Terran weasel tribe. There is, of course, no connection whatever with either.
They are the dominant predator on Sphinx (at least when in groups), and can travel continental distances without descending to the ground using picketwood trees unique to Sphinx which grow, in part, horizontally, providing something akin to elevated roads for treecat sized tree dwellers.
Those interested in reading the books may wish to skip the rest of this article.
Relations with humans
Treecats all adore Terran celery, particularly the genetically modified version specially adapted to Sphinx. Though their digestive systems are ill-adapted to terrestrial vegetation, they are not deterred. Celery contains a chemical which enhances their empathic/telepathic abilities -- a telepathy vitamin, as it were, though this connection was, until 'cat signing was developed, entirely unknown to humans. They are generally friendly towards humans who have a very strong (or perhaps bright, English words are inapt) 'mind glow' to almost all treecats. Thus, being generally well-disposed toward humans is not solely because of the celery, but it helps.
They are universally enthusiastic about human children—their 'mind taste' is particularly attractive. Adult treecats are excellent playmates for older children, being tough, fast, playful, and able to sense malicious intent. They are good attendants for infants, who usually seem to be able to interact with them in a way lost when older.
Treecats are empaths who can form a very intense, though limited, bond with humans; it is essentially permanent for both and if the human dies for any reason, the paired treecat nearly always starves to death or suicides. In rare cases, it is sometimes possible to (re-)bond to another human. Humans can survive the loss of a bonded treecat, but only with considerable difficulty. On Sphinx, in their native forest, treecats ordinarily live about 200 T-years, barring accident, disease, or other difficulty. The mismatch between typical (pre-prolong) human lifetimes and typical treecat lifetimes has had tragic implications in many cases. The development of life prolong treatments for humans has reduced this problem somewhat.
A bond between a human and a treecat is emotionally perceptible in both directions, but does not permit exchange of thoughts, nor use of language, nor visual or auditory images nor, with extremely rare exceptions, any deliberate or unconscious control by the human partner. Humans are, in treecat terms, mind blind. Treecats are far more capable in the human-treecat bond and can deliberately intervene in the emotional and mental health of their partners and others. They do not, except in the rarest of circumstances, as both their ethos of bonding and strong inhibitions preclude this, probably as an evolutionary adaptation to social living as telepath/empaths.
Bonding with a human occurs rapidly and with little warning on either side; the result is initially startling, if generally welcome, to the human -- especially to the human's friends and family if not from Sphinx. The bond continues to develop for some time after the initial 'imprinting'. It is not possible even for treecats to predict which human can (or will) bond, nor with which treecat; it is still less so for humans. The initial bonding rate was rather less than 1 human in 1 million, and has decreased with the increase of Sphinx' human population. Humans may be of nearly any age from child to adult when 'adopted', though few human children actually are adopted. Treecats are generally older, as they had not left the home clan and so potentially encountered humans, until mature. This first changed when Nimitz and Samantha decided to raise their first kittens with humans, and then led a small group to Grayson.
Treecats are both empaths and telepaths with each other, and mated pairs form a permanent bond with each other, though it is more complete than with humans since it is both telepathic and empathic, and 'supported' from both ends. Mature treecats are monogamous; adolescents are somewhat more flexible. The range of the telepathic/empathic contact in both cases (treecat-treecat and human-treecat) is limited to at most a few kilometres.
Bonded treecats stay physically close to their human as separation (particularly extended separation) beyond contact range is distressing, if temporarily endurable, for both. Separation between mated pairs is also possible but also distressing, and so is rare.
Since there has been no noticeable tendency for bonded humans to join treecat clans amongst the trees, bonding between a human and a treecate involves separation of the treecat partner from the clan, and indeed from essentially all treecat society, given the rarity of treecats living amongst humans. This abandonment of an existing social life is a measure of the intensity of the attraction and of the bond for treecats. Few bonded treecats have mated and produced kittens, another such indication.
Bonded treecats prefer to ride on a shoulder when possible; it has become traditional. Given the size and sharpness of their claws, and the limitations of a human shoulder as a treecat 'saddle', this poses problems which are usually solvable by installing armor cloth layers at appropriate locations in the human's clothing.
To an adopted human, and generally to all more than marginally perceptive who spend time in contact with a treecat(s), it becomes rapidly apparent that treecats have distinct personalities. They are not pets in any sense of the word, even with respect to an adopted/bonded human. Problems result when humans make the unfortunate inference that they are pets or are identical, and there have been a few, very rare, instances of adoptions which have failed due to the human partner coming to treat the treecat as a pet/possession. Until a bonded treecat learns enough about human society to 'fit in', there can be difficulties as well for this reason. As they are rapid learners, and since they have a direct connection to the emotions of all humans within range, and a particularly close bond with their adopted human, nearly all treecats adapt to necessary aspects of human society (eg, machinery dangers, doors (and door locks), toilet conventions, etc) rather quickly. Treecats usually retain a bemused, if not incredulously baffled, attitude toward many human activities and practices, and put up with them largely for the sake of their adopted human, or for treecat-human relations generally if not adopted.
Table manners are an example. Basic treecat table manners are suited to forest life in trees. They can become more than acceptable, by human standards, for human environments, even quite formal ones; more because they realize it matters to humans, especially their own human, than because they see much point in the whole business. A particular problem is that their teeth are not suited to coping at all well with fibrous foods such as celery, nor are their digestive arrangements well suited to such foods. Their devotion to celery is such, however, that their humans are rarely able to resist supplying them, despite their difficulties.
In general, their manners in human society are excellent, though absurd humans, and human absurdity, can sometimes provoke 'violations' which are perhaps best understood as mild revenge or practical joke, though neither may be apparent to the 'victim', being somewhat thick in any case to evoke such a response. Almost never has any treecat committed an actual faux pas, much less a crime in human terms. Being able to sense emotions provides considerable immunity to such errors, though not from fixed and inaccurate expectations in some humans.
Sense of 'humor'
The typical treecat sense of humor is similar to, but not identical to, that of humans. Most are prone to levels of practical joke and prank that can be uncomfortable for the 'victim', though their emotional sensitivity to even humans they are not bonded to precludes the more savage varieties. They enjoy 'wrestling' with their partners and others, and do so with enthusiasm and essentially perfect manners (ie, claws retracted, biting restrained, ...). Some are fanatic frisbee fans, and, having opposable thumbs, can throw with considerable finesse; being able to sense emotions in human frisbee partners makes them particularly difficult to deceive 'opponents'. Treecat frisbee fans regard canine (ie, Terran dog) frisbee players as seriously handicapped. 'Frisbee keep-away' is a popular pastime for treecats playing with human children, as is 'Catch the Cat' in which slower things such as adults and furniture are typically treated as part of the obstacle course. A favorite treecat maneuver in the latter is to escape being caught by going straight up the front or back of the would be catcher (or some other more or less stationary 'obstacle') at high speed, and then over the top.
Though they can swim, treecats dislike getting wet and regard human voluntary swimming in water (whether in pools or elsewhere) as an extreme example of human oddity; an actual fondness for swimming by particular humans is evidence of still further peculiarity in that human. In at least one case, a human hang-gliding fan has helped her treecat partner to discover an unimagined enthusiasm for aerial adventures hundreds of meters higher than the top of any Sphinxian tree. That treecat was also the first ever to have a spacesuit made and fitted specially for him; he has acquired considerable skill in using it, with its attitude and propulsion jets, to get around in airless microgravity environments. His manuvering skill is exceptional, and he quite rapidly learned to take safety issues seriously (eg, attitude and propulsion jet exhaust dangers to others) -- all without, note carefully, the ability to communicate abstract concepts such as 'vacuum'.
They are not above purloining the occasional stuffed celery canape , nor of taking advantage of their 'cuddly' qualities (in human eyes) with their partner's human acquaintances, or even of deliberate longterm 'maneuvering' of humans whose hostility to their partner (or to them) might cause problems. In short, they can be effective 'diplomats', if sometimes somewhat underhandedly so. It helps that they are fond of close contact with humans, especially from 'their own' human, and of what might be, but should never actually be, thought of as 'petting'.
Independence of humans
Treecats are not tame nor inherently subordinate to their adopted human in any sense, and can and do make their own judgements about any matter they understand. Much of what humans do, and how they go about doing it, has made no sense to them, and they very clearly realize the limitations of their understanding, most especially those treecats bonded with a human and living among humans. Nevertheless, they are, within those limits, voluntary companions albeit as the result of a poorly understood, if intense, specific attraction to and bond with a particular human.
However, they fully understand immediate physical threat, and can sense emotional hostility from any human, and decide for themselves when and if action (perhaps violent and deadly) is required. These reactions are not, in many cases, under the complete control of their bonded partner (human or treecat). Treecats can and will take independent direct action in defense of themselves, their families, their fellow clan members, and on occasion other treecats generally. With regard to humans, any treecat is capable of taking, and strongly—instinctively—motivated to take, action in defense of its bonded human against any reachable threat, including other humans. Being fast, agile, strong, and well armed, treecats can be quite deadly; treecats have killed several humans (generally in defense of others, including humans). Their judgements and actions are almost always reasoned, and -- being able to read emotions -- better informed than observing humans can be, though the reasoning is not necessarily on a basis clear to, nor approved by, humans, including their adopted human. Treecats are less ambivalent about violence (especially their own) than are humans. They regard a threat killed as a threat properly dealt with and don't devote any further concern to it. Human methods and rules of coping with threats often make little sense to them and are put up with, as with table manners, for the sake of treecat-human relations or in individual cases an adopted human.
In some circumstances, they will act to defend one or more non-bonded humans, and have sometimes cooperated with other treecats and humans in doing so. Treecats have assisted in identifying and capturing or killing criminals, including some humans. In the case of some humans, they have been retained (threatening treecats tend to be taken seriously) for human collection (ie, by police). In the case of treecat criminals, action is more direct and less abstract, almost certainly due to treecat telepathy and empathy.
In addition, especially when bonded to a human participant immersed in the situation, treecats generally understand the difference between ethical and unethical behavior, the necessity for emergency action to rescue others (either treecats or humans), and have a (rough by human standards) sense of justice. They also generally understand revenge and retaliation, hostility, and unreasonableness, even for human circumstances. Their sense of what is appropriate is less nuanced than that of most humans, and they are inclined to less abstract responses than most humans. The human in a bonded pair must provide perspective for both in such cases.
Treecats, and much of their habitat on Sphinx, have long had special legal status within the Star Kingdom of Manticore (and, of course, on Sphinx) as an intelligent species—however obscure the exact level of that intelligence had long been. The Ninth Amendment of the Star Kingdom's Constitution specifically protects them and they have a status equivalent to a minor child in that respect within the Star Kingdom. This development has been aided (or perhaps abetted) by the fact that several Manticoan monarchs have been adopted by treecats. As of Elizabeth III, seven of the previous nine monarchs had been adopted. The Royal Manticoran Navy (and Manticoran society generally) have perforce made accommodations accordingly, if in some cases, grudgingly. At least once, treecats were the object of a concerted (and almost successful) attempt to exploit them as experimental animals for research into their empathetic (and at the time conjectured telepathic) abilities. The research company behind the effort, The Richtman Corporation, was a covert project of Manpower Inc, the Mesan genetic slavery organization, and was discovered to be so by a newsie (with Sphinx Forestry Service help behind the scenes). Since then, treecats have not faced anything publicly known which could be termed a species wide threat. The state of war between the People's Republic of Haven and the Manticorean Alliance may pose such a risk, but has not yet done so.
Elsewhere, they have no legal status at all, save that as members of an intelligent species under the Elysian Rule. As the Rule is an attempt to prevent species extinction as a result of human action, and enforced (more or less) by the Solarian League (and some others), it is less than clear how it would apply to a single individual outside his (her, or other, depending) native environment. The status of an individual treecat outside the Star Kingdom is thus not well settled. The status of Treecats outside human space is still less clear but, as no such treecats are known, this is largely irrelevant.
On Sphinx, the Sphinx Forestry Commission has special responsibilities for controlling human interaction or interference with them in the 'wild', and about 1/3 of Sphinx has been reserved for their exclusive use. Its Sphinx Forestry Service's stations (especially the HQ) serve as rendezvous points for treecats wishing to meet humans, and vice versa. They attract treecats particularly interested in humans and have been the site of many adoptions. Sphinx Forest Service Rangers have the highest rate (and absolute number) of adoptions of any human group.
Treecats refer to themselves as The People. In their native forests, they are organized into territorial clans of up to several hundred, centered on 'memory singers' who serve as cultural and historical 'archives' for the band and, jointly, for the species. Otherwise, treecats would have no cultural memory, being without physical records (eg, writing). Memories are retained and replayed in great detail and go back several hundred T-years from the present. Governance is by elders chosen for technical ability (eg, hunting or scouting); the memory singers in a band (rarely more than a few, and always female) have automatic membership. Other choice criteria are obscure.
Young treecats are very active, inquisitive, and exploratory. Appalling is an adjective frequently used by humans unable to keep up, or exhaused from trying. Raising, training, and teaching them is typically done with the assistance of other adults in the Clan—a sort of 'honorary aunt/uncle' relation. In the case of kittens whose parent(s) are bonded with human(s), the usual procedure has long been to foster with Clan-resident relatives or other members of one of the parent's clans when old enough. In the case of kittens living off Sphinx (thus far a very very small number), provisions were needed for such assistance as humans aren't small enough to follow exploratory kittens where they are wont to wend, nor to get them out of the scrapes to which they are prone once they have went, and so cannot adequately substitute. Nor are humans able to communicate with them as necessary about such important things as stalking and pouncing technique, mental manners, and so on.
Their civilisation has not developed advanced technology but was at or beyond the equivalent of the human Stone Age before humans arrived (eg, controlled open fire, worked stone and wood tools, weaving, cordage technology (eg, nets, lines, etc), ...), though they had not developed farming, being fundamentally territorial hunter-gathering bands. They were, and remain, conscious tool makers and users, though the range of their tools is rather wider since encountering humans; they also are now deliberate farmers, though in a small way, post human settlement on Sphinx. Trade between clans (of tools, materials, crafts, food, etc) is of long standing, considerably preceding contact with humans.
Treecats are socially and culturally cautious (ie, 'conservative' in significant senses), and have not shown the rate of innovation, restlessness, or recklessness characteristic of humans either individually or collectively. Those few treecats who are innovative are especially important, particularly since contact with humans.
Treecats made a planet-wide decision to stay hidden when human settlers arrived on Sphinx; memory singers have preserved scouts' observations of the first human pathfinders, some hundreds of T-years before, including the killing of an attacking hexapuma (a 10 meter long, 6 legged, sabre toothed tiger analog, with a permanent seriously bad attitude) with 'one loud noise' from a distance. The incident occurred before treecats of the time had come to a conclusion about revealing themselves. This revelation of human capacities suggested reticence both then, and again several hundred years later when humans returned, this time to stay. They managed to remain entirely concealed thereafter for several T-decades, until the psychic bonding possibilities between humans and treecats were accidentally discovered, as an indirect result of the newly noticed loss of celery to treecat raiders. Even thereafter, their intelligence level and social arrangements remained deliberately obscured, as the result of another explicit planet-wide choice which remained effective for several hundred T-years despite many adoptions throughout that period, and despite many human attempts to study them, their society, and potential.
Both human name and (treecat name) are given where known. Note that treecat names have been long unknown to humans, as have the names treecats use for humans who have bonded.
- Nimitz (Laughs Brightly)
- Scout of Bright Water Clan; bonded with (RMN and GSN) Admiral Lady Dame Honor Harrington (Dances on Clouds), Dutchess Harrington and Steadholder Harrington
- Samantha (Golden Voice)
- Originally of Sun Leaf Clan, adopted into Bright Water Clan after her bond with Nimitz. First bonded with RMN Lt Cmdr (Engineering) Harold Tschu (Hunter of Stars), then became Nimitz' mate, and (re-)bonded with RMN Admiral Hamish Alexander, Earl White Haven, some years after Tschu's death in action—the first memory singer ever to bond with a human, the first memory singer ever to leave Sphinx, one of the few female treecats to adopt a human, and one of the very few females (7 prior to her) ever to adopt someone other than a Sphinx Forestry Service Ranger.
- Achilles, Andromeda, Cassandra, Jason
- The first sons and daughters of Nimitz and Samantha, the first treecat kittens ever to live with humans from birth, and the first kittens ever to leave Sphinx.
- Athena, Artemis, Farragut, Hera, Hipper, Hood, Nelson, Togo
- Members of Nimitz' Bright Water Clan, and the first adult treecats ever to leave Sphinx to live elsewhere as a group; actually the first adult treecats unbonded with a human ever to leave Sphinx under any conditions. All were named by Honor Harrington, betraying her keen interest in naval history (obviously including 'wet navy' history), when they arrived at the Harrington homestead in the Copperwalls on Sphinx. Both the Sphinx Forestry Commission and the RMN Admiralty officially disapproved of the departure of any treecat except Nimitz from Sphinx as Admiral Harrington reported for duty on Grayson. No treecat saw a problem -- including those bonded with two of the SFS Rangers sent to protect the treecats from exploitation.
- Farragut—see above
- Bonded with Miranda LaFollett, first Grayson citizen to be adopted by a treecat
- Hipper—see above
- Bonded with Rachel Mayhew (then 11 T-years old), the second Grayson to be adopted, and the eldest daughter of Benjamin IX, Protector of Grayson
- Ariel (Leaf Catcher)
- Bonded with Elizabeth Adrienne Samantha Annette Winton (Soul of Steel), Queen Elizabeth III of the Star Kingdom of Manticore
- Bonded with King Roger III, (re-)bonded with Prince Consort Justin Zeyr-Winton (husband of Elizabeth III) very shortly after Roger's death
- Bonded with RMN Admiral Aristophones Georgides
- Bonded with RMN officer Commander Ornsdorff (War of Honor).
The Harrington Steading baseball club, a recent member of the Grayson Major Leagues, adopted the name The Treecats at Steadholder Harrington's insistence (the alternative was the Salamanders which she found less than acceptable). Thus far, they have given a valiant effort without much success: there is hope for the future, however.
- Lionheart (Climbs Quickly)
- bonded with Stephanie Harrington (Death Fang's Bane) an ancestor of Honor Harrington, the first human-treecat bonding. Saved Stephanie's life after a hang-gliding accident, and Stephanie in turn then saved his after he became injured during an individual battle with a hexapuma attempting to defend the injured Stephanie. All before anyone (treecat or human) became aware of the depth of the bond that had become established between them.
- (Sings Truly)
- Climbs Quickly's sister, a memory singer—one of the most important in all The People's history—of Bright Water Clan. It was she who first suggested, and then carried to adoption by The People, the strategy of permitting interaction with humans, including bonding, while concealing The People's true intelligence and abilities.
- Fisher (Swift Striker)
- Bonded with Dr. Scott MacDallan (Darkness Foe), one of the first human-treecat bondings. Bonded while saving MacDallan's life after a fishing accident ("The Stray").
- (True Stalker)
- bonded with Arvin Erhardt, saved MacDallan's life at the cost of his own after Erhardt was killed ("The Stray")
- (Seeker of Dreams)
- Bonded with Crown Princess (later Queen) Adrienne Winton, the first member of the Star Kingdom of Manticore Royal Family to be adopted by a treecat
- (Singer from Silence)
- Memory singer who lost the ability to receive telepathically after an injury. Moved to the Bright Water Clan of Sings Truly and Climbs Quickly to study human use of verbal language in hopes of compensating. Was still able to telepathically transmit and empathetically transmit/receive, so her progress in understanding the concept of human verbal speech (considerable but not complete) became available to all The People, paving the way for later work on hand signing initiated by Dr Alyson Harrington, Honor Harrington's mother.
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